South Africans are disregarding lockdown rules and regulations around drinking and gatherings in large numbers – while also flouting the nationwide curfew, says Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) spokesperson, chief superintendent Wayne Minnaar.
Minnaar told ENCA that operations over the weekend led to the arrest of 740 people for drunk driving in Gauteng alone, while many others were found drinking in the streets, after curfew, not wearing masks or social distancing.
Compared to ‘normal’ times, the arrests and figures were extremely high, he said, noting particular problem areas such as Hillbrow, Rosebank and Sandton, which remained busy until midnight. The only silent time was between 02h00 and 04h00.
“Very few people are complying with the lockdown regulations,” he said.
Minnaar said the JMPD would be keeping up its operations to clamp down on non-compliance, which will include road blocks and being more present on the streets.
“We have to sustain these operations. Under level 2 we cannot have people on the roads at night after 22h00. (Venues) need to stick to their limits, ensure wearing of face masks, and maintaining social distance.”
Alcohol clamp down
Minnaar focused on alcohol as a particular problem, echoing sentiments from transport minister Fikile Mbalula, who said that South Africans were out of control with drinking.
Three officers from the Tshwane metro police department (TMPD) were killed during a head-on collision with a suspected drunk driver, early on Sunday.
Responding to the incident, Mbalula said it was clear that the country’s current drinking laws – outside of the Covid-19 restrictions – were clearly not enough to curb road deaths.
“As a country, we need to review our laws on the access of alcohol. We need to address this as it continues to kill our people on roads and everywhere,” the minister said
“There is over-access for alcohol. People are out of control. We must now put our heads together. When government acts, nobody is going to say it is unfair. It is not about (the coronavirus).
“Alcohol, you can see what it is doing to our country. It is a mess. This over access of alcohol…is over. It must come to an end. We must review our laws, in terms of access,” Mbalula said.
A clamp down on alcohol abuse is also gaining support from other sectors, including the medical field, opposition parties, and the alcohol industry itself.
The Democratic Alliance has called on South African to be responsible when drinking, warning that the country’s alcohol industry cannot afford another re-introduction on the ban of alcohol due to abuse.
The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has recommended that measures be taken to curb alcohol abuse even beyond the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the alcohol industry has pledged its support for measures taken by government to limit drinking and driving, underage drinking and binge drinking.
Government is currently looking at changes to traffic laws that could see a zero-tolerance approach to drinking and driving in the country.